Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Once again, Physician Assistants are raising the issue of changing the name of the profession. I suppose it's appropriate to consider adopting a professional title that accurately reflects the job that we do. As the PA concept is being eagerly adopted internationally, more appropriate titles for the PA role (Medical Care Practitioner, Assistant Physician, etc.) are being utilized. In the US, the term Physician Associate seems the preferred title amongst our profession. The title accomplishes two important goals; it more accurately reflects the role that PAs provide as part of the health care team and preserves the "PA" acronym.

A professional name change does present challenges, namely the revision of the practice codes in every state and the federal government that makes reference to Physician Assistants. Despite the advances and inroads the profession has made in it's 43 year history, every revision attempt opens the opportunity to lose something in return. A name change would likely raise the ire of some of the more insecure physicians organizations, who would undoubtedly take the opportunity to try and curtail PA practice in some way. Take for example the idiots in NJ right now up in arms to keep PAs from performing EMG studies. Perhaps the way to go is simply to alter state and federal licensing codes to recognize the two titles as interchangeable. Thus you might be licensed as a "physician assistant/associate." This would allow you legally to use the title "associate," without affecting insurance and other regulatory codes that recognize the "assistant."

I like the term Physician Associate. I am an associate of the physician, a colleague. In no way do I "assist" physicians, other that to assist them in increasing their revenue and occasionally provide input on patient care questions. In professional school, I studied the theory and application of clinical medicine, not how to assist physicians. In practice, I evaluate patients with acute and potentially life-threatening complaints, order diagnostics, interpret tests, order treatments, perform invasive procedures, evaluate the effectiveness of said treatments, consult specialists, and make diagnoses and patient dispositions. Somewhere at the end, somebody signs off on the chart. Nope...not alot of assisting going on here, but rather a lot of practicing medicine. Been doing it for 14 years. Yes, personally I would like the title change, since it more accurately reflects the work I am doing.

So the change would be appropriate, but is it worth the risks? What are the negative consequences? How will the change benefit the profession down the road? These are all questions that need to be addressed before moving forward on the issue.

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